Monday, 5 December 2011

Forms of Address

I've started my Christmas cards this afternoon (Sunday).

When I started work back in the '60s protocol was important.  A Minister of Religion was addressed as Reverend and Dear Sir unless he was higher up the ladder than a simple Reverend.  And so it went on.  We kept a Who's Who in the office and every honour etc was meticulously used.  Even the order was important.  I can still recall that I used to use J Graeme Bryson Esq CBE TD DL LLM JP as my guide for the different types of honour and their order of use.  When I came to the Western Isles I discovered that formalities of address were virtually non-existent.  In fact Lewis is a good training for New Zealand where first names are the order of the day most of the time and you have to know someone quite well to know their family or surname.

Nowadays however there are many more pitfalls for people who cling to some formality in addressing people on letters.  I've given up trying to work out which of my female friends likes Ms, Miss, Mrs or just plain Jane Plain.  Some use the family name from their first marriage, some revert to their surname, some use the surname of their second marriage, some hyphenate any combination of the two.  All in all it's a bit of a minefield for the unknowing and the unwary.  

Men are easier.  I've taken to doing something I actually find anathema - or would have done until now - and for the most part am just using the forename and family/surname with no embellishments.  

And that's just the start.  I'm not venturing any further...


  1. Sweden is like New Zealand in that respect, it seems. You rarely get introduced to anyone by more than their first name these days and it can be quite a struggle sometimes to find out the last name!

  2. I too struggle with this and we've been told that we are difficult to address - is it Dr and Mr Edwards, Mr & Dr Edwards...? Personally I'm perfectly happy being addressed simply by our names with no titles at all (though the number of people who still call me Miss is astonishing).

  3. I agree. It IS difficult.

    Addressing a letter/envelope with ' Jane Smith ' and no honourarium seems boorish.

    And sliding off topic a bit, I was taught that ' To whom it may concern' would suffice if didn't know the actual name of the addressee when writing business letters. But times have changed and often now email comes to my company with " HEY! " of ' YO'.


    Great blog and thank you for writing.

  4. Oh, this is my chance to finally have someone explain to me what's the difference between Ms and Miss! For a very long time, I thought it is entirely the same.
    In German, it is common to address people as Herr or Frau (Mr. or Mrs.) _________ (surname), and if they have an academic degree, some like others to use that, especially in business or other formal surroundings.
    My sweetheart, for instance, is Dr. M. (he has a degree in theoretical physics) at work, but a lot of people outside work just call him Herr M., and people our age and of course his friends and family simply call him J. (I am not allowed to give his full name here, sorry, and of course people do not really just call him "J.").
    Myself - well, I was married twice, but both times I took the name of my husband, and after my first marriage ended in divorce, I paid good money to have my maiden name back - only to give it up a second time :-)
    Nowadays, I am still officially Mrs. Riley, not Miss Riley or Fräulein Riley - Fräulein was abolished in German many years ago, today every female older than 16 is addressed "Frau".

  5. My mum was a stickler for manners and correctness, but like you, I have caved in to pressure, and now address cards sans title: Lucy Locket -- never mind whether she's miss, ms., mrs, or doctor.

    At least with the plain unvarnished names, the postman should be able to find her.

    Personally, I'm so thrilled to receive an actual letter, I don't care how the envelope is addressed -- it's just great to get mail!

  6. For me you will forever be

    "Just Graham" or in the right circumstances "It's Just Graham"!! x

  7. In so many ways, proper usage of anything now a days is rare. People don't talk or write properly any more. Many seem to write, even blog posts, with the all too familiar texting lingo. Imagine that?!

    Funny how such has evolved to slang.

  8. And still, nobody has enlightened me as to the difference between Ms and Miss...

  9. I wrote a letter today to James Bloggs Esq. I just can't break the habit. I acknowledge decorations - DFC, MC, MM - if I know them, but I don't do degrees.

    Librarian - Miss is used by people (always women), who don't care that you know they are unmarried. Ms is used by people (always women), who don't want you to know whether or not they're married, because Mrs makes you an appendage of some greater, more important being, and they resent that Mr might mean 'master' as in a young person, Mr, a married man, or Mr, an unmarried man.

    PS Ms(s) don't wear bras either, or didn't in days of yore - i.e. the sixties, but they probably do now for health and safety reasons.

  10. Thank you, Marcel! How glad I am that, in German, Frau means literally simply "woman" - so, any female past puberty is a Frau, no matter whether she is of the bra-wearing kind or not :-)

  11. To elaborate on Marcel's comment; in my limited experience Ms tends to be used by ladies with moustaches and sometimes they have a beard, almost always wear a cardigan and occasionally knitted stockings.

  12. Nowt wrong with cardigans and knitted stockings, when the weather calls for it :-) But as for moustaches on a female face... uuuh!!

  13. You made me smile again Adrian. I am in my cardigan and thick socks, plus all the other clothes of course but I promise you, I do not have a beard!!